Artist Heejo Kim interviews artist Julia Gould

Baltimore, MD.

April, 2023

Julia Gould is a recent graduate of the BFA program at Maryland Institute College of Art. She has decided to has stay in Baltimore, which is also her hometown, to settle into a year of art making through a structure and studio practice of her own making. In painting the familiar – her friends, her family’s garden, and animals, she finds ways to examine human relationships and desires. These interests also intermingle with depictions of the natural world and grapple with subjects like love and death. Julia’s year of investment in pushing her work further has led her to more meaningful ways to employ color, light, and paint. She is also developing visual metaphors as they relate to her own personal history. You can see Julia’s work this July in Tribeca in New York City with ABR Contemporary. Heejo Kim is also a recent graduate of MICA, receiving her MFA from the Hoffberger School of Painting. Heejo’s paintings investigate human relationships, loneliness and interactions with interior spaces. The artists exchanged studio visits in April of 2023.

Heejo: How did you end up working here in Baltimore?

Julia:  I grew up around here, in Baltimore County.  I attended a magnet high school for the arts in Towson called George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology.  It was a great program where I was able to take three to five art classes every year. At Carver I was able to explore art making at an early age with support and feedback. I realized that this is what I enjoy, and what I want to pursue. I went to MICA straight out of high school. A year ago I graduated from MICA. For 9 years I have been in arts programs here in Baltimore,  and I have developed a great support system of mentors and artist friends. For now I feel Baltimore still holds opportunity as I pursue painting as my profession.  

H: How do you manage your time in and out of the studio?

J: Having a routine is really important for me. I like to wake up early and go to the gym to lift. I go to my studio after breakfast, then I go to jiu jitsu practice in the evening. I find it hard to be creative when I’m not being active, eating well,  or getting enough sleep. I’m a creature of habit, so having the comfort of a daily routine helps me be a lot more productive. I go to the studio almost everyday, but even if I’m not painting, I’m looking at my paintings, and I’m thinking about them. Being comfortable in the space where I’m painting is also important to me. 

H: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process and idea development?

J: I like to think of my work as narrative, surrounding a personal mythology. The people, plants and animals I use are largely metaphoric for experiences I have had and scenarios that depict the way I view things.  For me, it all starts with drawing, most of my paintings start in my sketchbook. Most early drafts start from my imagination, from there I’ll work from life, and often some kind of photo reference. Repetition is important to me. During the important image making stages of a particular painting, I’ll continue to draw the painting in my sketchbook multiple times to understand what is going on. I use my sketchbook throughout the process, from the source of ideas, through problem solving, and for final touches.

Sometimes I’ll do a photoshoot, where I act out my drawings and gather additional information on how light can be best used to emphasize what I need it too. Often I’ll take videos, so I can go back and watch myself or my models move. That allows me to have more information,  and I can freeze the frames that become helpful. When I get enough information from the photo, there is a bit of mental collage putting it all together. I go back to my sketchbook to make sure the attitude of the original drawing I was sold on is still there.

H: How do you use paint and how does that relate to color and light for you?

 J: I think my application of paint is coming out of monotype printmaking and ink wash techniques; rather than mixing whites and darks into the paint,  I’m trying to just apply the paint thicker for the dark areas and thinner for the light areas. I would say I’m most excited about a passage in my painting when I can hit the attitude I want with thin paint and maintain some visibility of the surface.  When this happens, the mark making feels like drawing, and when you can get those really high chroma paints applied thinly there’s so much luminosity you can tap into. I try very hard to preserve those moments, and go thicker when I’m trying to build depth, form, or special effects, and need a bit more rendering to make it happen. Recently, I feel that I can get away with high chroma, and it still wraps around form, if it goes towards a monochrome situation. I’m drawn to translucent pigments like Copper Thalo, Alizarin,  and Quinacridone at the moment because they can be thinned into lights, but when they are applied thickly they can also go very dark: they have range.

H: How does color specifically operate in your work?

 J: My goal with color is largely to create an atmosphere. Color can quickly describe the time of day, and right now I’m making a lot of nocturnal paintings. Sometimes blue has been acting as a shorthand for moonlight and the reds have been a spotlight of sorts on night time scenes. I like that there isn’t a lot of red in the actual spaces and things I’ve been painting, so it quickly creates an unnatural quality to it all. Like you are looking at something private, something that you weren’t supposed to see.  I’ve also been fond of using hard lines in the value structure of the painting as a place to switch color palette; as a way of creating multiple separate spaces in the paintings with their own atmospheres. And so I think it’s important that these figures and items that I’m painting exist in a space that suits them. If you can use color to describe that space, you can create a mood. For this reason I’m not putting that much focus on local color, but more so working within a color family, or two.

H: What is your decision making around where to situate your figures?

J: Currently, most of my figures are situated outside, involved with plants and animals in that space.  I grew up with a beautiful garden, and most of the paintings in my studio take place in that garden and its surrounding landscape. It ties into how I want to depict the figures. I’m interested in the people still being animals, and I think putting them outside just kind of jumps the conversation there. Whether it be a sense of togetherness or a separation from nature, I think staying in the same outdoor space helps, but I think there’s also a problem there. I don’t really like the idea of harmony, I don’t feel like it has much truth for me. So I’ve been working on two part and three part compositions, to break things… like splitting the characters away from each other, because they’re both outside but they’re not quite in the same space. Partially because I don’t want the work to read as a fantasy depiction of harmony with nature. I am more interested in discord, and so I try to depict moments when things fall apart. I also think that it is more truthful, so to be literal- It’s difficult to  really get that close to deer, so I want to acknowledge that I am sometimes the voyeur. Being on a different canvas, and peering into the one with the deer, seems honest. 

 At least that’s how I was thinking about it, so a lot of my work revolves around my relationship to animals and nature as well as interpersonal relationships. I’ve been doing “Adam and Eve compositions”. Two figures around a tree, two figures on either side of an orchid or whatever that object of temptation is. Whether it be a tree or a dripping orchid flower, the figures are not quite together but looking towards or wanting each other. And so the piece I’m working on now figures walking around the tree, the two lovers.  They are meeting on a tree, fractured down the middle. One figure is walking around the tree and then the broken branches on the other side, implying the other figure had fallen through the branches before they could meet. Yeah, the tree is dangerous, Both literally and metaphorically.

H: You mentioned that a lot of the spaces you paint come from your childhood and some of the figures are your friends – how do you deal with things like reality, metaphor, and memory?

J: Growing up, my parents were avid gardeners, so we just had so many beautiful outdoor spaces. About an acre and a half of flower beds, trees, a vegetable garden, and my mother collects English roses. Two years ago I was working at a local tree farm, caring for the plants and landscaping on jobs. So I’ve always loved creating and being in outdoor spaces, and I’ve loved animals.  My siblings and I were raised with cats, dogs, chickens, fish, turtles, frogs, ect… In addition to the occasional rabbit, mouse, or snake we would try to rehabilitate after a cat got to it. The stone walkway from the painting behind you is from that garden, this tree is actually a dawn redwood tree that my parents planted when they moved to my childhood home 30 years ago, and the painting of the two women to my left takes place in a rose briar that has been there as long as I can remember. I am really thankful to that garden, but it’s complicated. I have seen a lot of animals give birth, get sick and die, or get killed. I have dug a lot of animal graves in that yard.

My settings are partially due to opportunity, these are the people who are willing to model for me and these are the spaces I have. Thankfully I have generous friends that’ll go into a rosebush for a painting. The snake is usually two snakes eating each other, and for me that was a shorthand for lovers. They’re both consuming each other and the snake is just a great form. The way they move, they can contain all kinds of shapes. So in the painting behind you,  I wanted the shorthand for lovers on top, and then the figures in the background. They’re hidden because I’m uncomfortable with very direct shows of intimacy, so I can hide it behind the metaphor. So, whether it’s the snakes or whether it’s the branches in front of them, or whether it’s the fact that they’re actually separated, I think these are all tools to quietly reference that kind of intimacy, and the fact that these moments aren’t performative. Some of the hand works are a slightly non-obscured act of sexuality. The hand with the orchid, in particular. Or even the lithograph with the two hands, and the sticky dripping orchids have always been a metaphor for temptation. The plants themselves are named after the greek word for genitals. So that’s an ancient metaphor that might be cliche, but right now I’m leaning into it. Sometimes I can’t help but want to possess things… I have my own orchid collection. They cover themselves in sap to attract pollinators, their shapes reflect their pollinators, or animals their pollinators would hunt. Even within the botany of those plants, there’s so many rich metaphors about attraction- which are great. So this one’s titled “Nocturnal Pollinators”. And this one “Hand Pollination”, all of these things. So there’s a bit of a joke in it but also a more serious metaphor maybe, but both.

H: What is your definition of love, or what kind of love that you want to talk about more in your paintings?

J: Okay. Well, I’ll talk about one separate kind of love first, or maybe you could call it fetish with the animals, because of their patterns. That’s why we keep them as pets, that’s why people kill them and make them into trophies. So the pattern, it makes them beautiful and we love it, but it’s also supposed to be their camouflage, but instead it’s the reason why we are drawn to them, I think there’s a metaphor about love there.

Definition of love – relating to my work, it might be more so about desire, about the things we want but don’t quite have. Maybe it’s about a lack of love, I don’t know how to depict a content person well. Hands quietly touching, figures falling before meeting, figures obstructed… There is usually something out of reach, in this piece, it was very much about the eyes. It’s a triangle, one  is looking towards another, but she pushes away while looking towards the rose. I think that might be the aspect of love that I’m currently interested in.

H: How do you think about using texture and surface in your work?

J: At first the goal is to paint thinly. Then I can see which marks I want to keep. But, I usually don’t hit everything I want on the first try, so I build around the thin areas. The thin parts areas are usually the brightest, and I want them to come forward. It’s harder to make the deep spaces thin, so they involve rendering. Some of the paintings stay relatively thin, but some get thick. A couple behind me involve chopping up old paint into a paste to lightly sculpt the rocks. Sometimes I am working on top of another painting, and those paintings tend to get thick. I think that if you keep building it up, there’s more opportunity for illusions and effects within the paint, and then the thinner parts read more like drawing to me. I like when I can have both in a painting because they make the other feel distinct.

H: What are some artists that have inspired you recently

J: I think a couple big ones coming out of MICA were Doron Langburg, and Angela Dufresne. The way they paint makes every mark feel important, as though they are using  shorthand. Some older names that I look to for similar reasons are John Singer Sargent and Velàzquez, not so much for what they painted but the way that they painted it. Matthew Bollinger, Anthony Cudahy, Jenna Gribbon, and Kyle Staver use color families well to create atmosphere. I think John D. Graham, Colleen Barry, and Emma Webster carry an ability to draw beautifully into their paintings.

H: What are your plans for your future?

J: Well, I want to keep painting. I have a lot of painting ideas I haven’t gotten to yet, and they are my largest focus. I want to make a living making and selling work, so maybe I need to develop some more charisma. This first year of being a working artist has been great, just making the work I want to. I am considering graduate school at some point, so I may do a round of applications this fall or the year after. But I am in no rush, I just want to make work and kind connections in the process. I am excited that I have an upcoming group show with ABR Contemporary this July in Tribeca!

Julia Gould in her Baltimore studio, 2023
Inertia Studio Visits